Lilli Lewis usually spends her time in New Orleans playing piano and singing in that tradition. But soon after her Jazz and Heritage Festival appearance in 2020, she (and most other musicians) found themselves either unable to create or using the “great pause” in performances to think in new directions. Ms Lewis went outside of the New Orleans club repertoire to write a batch of “story songs”; some of which had been written prior but many written during this period of creative redirection. The result is the album, “Americana”. According to Lilli, these songs came from the fringes of the power mandala ; the houseless, the refugees, the abused, the trauma kids, the queer folk, the rural poor, the religious and the humanists. I had made it a habit to see the unseen. It is also her attempt to reclaim musical traditions that have informed all expressions of American music. It’s a love letter to all the music that has moved me, all the people who have impacted me and the hope that I still hold in my “American Heart”.
Our conversation spans a number of topics from the “controversy” around the use of Lady A on her song, “The Healing Inside”, to a discussion of black women’s representation in roots music. We touch on her training as an opera singer and classical pianist to singing in collaboration with New Orlean’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band members. We finish with her songwriting insights on the central song in the story cycle, “My American Heart”.
The segment includes the songs “My American Heart (Prelude)”, “Copper John”, “My American Heart (Benediction) from the album that NPR and Rolling Stone call “one of the most powerful of the Year”.
Lilli Lewis will be appearing tonight Sunday 10/23 at Boston’s City Winery as well as Wednesday 10/26 at Northampton’s Parlor Room as well as Harvard’s Fruitlands on Thursday 10/27.